The European Tour dream is still alive for 78 players, including experienced stars such as Maarten Lafeber, Ross McGowan and Edoardo Molinari, after the fourth-round cut fell at Qualifying School Final Stage, where three players share the lead.
South African Jean Hugo joined Englishmen Daniel Gavins and Chris Hanson at the top of the pile on 14 under par two thirds of the way through golf’s greatest marathon. But for those players who made the one under par cut at PGA Catalunya Resort - a European Tour Destination - winning is not the be all and end all.
The top 25 and ties at the end of the gruelling six-round examination will earn their berth in The 2016 Race to Dubai and, with even those on the cut line just five shots off the six under mark that is currently good enough for European Tour promotion, it is all to play for in northern Spain.
Among those inside the top 25 are Swedish amateur star Marcus Kinhult and Irishman Paul Dunne – who shared the third round lead at this year’s Open Championship – as well as former European Tour winners such as Kenneth Ferrie, Peter Hedblom, Lafeber, McGowan, Damien McGrane and Molinari.
It’s a lot of pressure on everyone this week so you have to deal with it in your own way and try to get out of your own way - Jean Hugo
Joint leader Hugo is one man who knows all about winning – having claimed 17 victories on the Sunshine Tour – and he believes that he may reap the rewards if he treats the fabled Final Stage as just another tournament.
“I’m quite happy because I’ve played it very well so far,” said the 36 year old from Stellenbosch, who has not yet successfully negotiated Final Stage in eight attempts. “I’m looking forward to the next two rounds.
“If you bring a bit of form in here you can do well. I’ve never really done well at Q-School, but I maybe have a different mind-set to previous years I’ve tried. I’ve been playing very well at home so that helps.
“I’ll try and build on every score day by day, you never know what the other guys are going to do. In the past I’ve tried to get out there too quickly, then you miss by a couple, then you think of the previous year’s cut and the numbers. If you just play according to the conditions you’ll be fine.
“It just fell into place today, I hit a lot of good shots and I’ve got myself in the game. If you try and win this one and then just fall short, you’re still well off with your card for next year, so that’s the aim.
“It’s a lot of pressure on everyone this week and it’s a tough course so you have to deal with it in your own way and try to get out of your own way, play the course as it is.”
Hanson, who has played four seasons on the European Challenge Tour and played in the season-ending NBO Golf Classic Grand Final in Oman ten days ago, said he was not feeling any pressure at Final Stage and he is looking forward to enjoying the battle for a rookie season on the top tier.
“There are not many people who can enjoy this event as much as me because my Challenge Tour Ranking for next year is the best I’ve ever had,” said the 30 year old. “The top 25 didn’t really matter so I suppose that’s probably freed me up where I can enjoy it.
“My game has been pretty good for a few months now and I played well in Oman. I’ve just come here and I feel pretty fresh. I’m looking forward to the next few days.
“I just need to keep doing what I’m doing, relaxing, not too much practicing, speaking to the family back home and they keep you levelled. It’s good fun.
“I’m not going to lie, there are moments when you think about it out there on the course, or when you wake up in the morning. I’ve been playing this game ten years now though and you know you have to keep in the present in this game.”
Ryan Fox of New Zealand provided one of the stories of a tense day as he carded a six under 64 – the best of the day – on the Tour Course to climb inside the cut line from four shots outside.
The son of former All Blacks legend Grant, the 28 year old only just missed out on graduation via the European Challenge Tour last week, finishing one spot outside the top 15 of the Road to Oman Rankings at the conclusion of the 2015 season.
“It was great out there today,” he said. “I could sort of feel it coming, there were some signs the first three days and obviously the Tour Course is a bit easier than the Stadium Course. I managed to take advantage of that today and hang around for the next couple of days which is nice.
“I had nothing to lose this week really, I’m playing for top 25 or bust which is quite a nice position to be in – unlike quite a few other guys I’ve still got status for next year, something to fall back on.
“I was more than a little bit disappointed to miss out on that top 15, but I didn’t play well enough those last two weeks in China and Oman.
“I struggled the first couple of days here, mentally especially in the second round, but I kicked myself in the arse today and found something out there and hopefully can take this on for the next couple of days and that 16th place won’t matter too much.”
Other notable movers included Gabriel Axell – one of nine Swedes to make the cut – and Dutchman Reinier Saxton, who both shot four under par rounds of 66 to sneak in on the cut line.
Among those moving in the opposite direction at the worst possible moment were Australian Mark Brown and Joel Sjӧholm of Sweden, both well over par today to miss the cut by one shot, with Daan Huizing of the Netherlands shooting an untimely 79 to drop out of the top 70.